Toyota Prius Sets 1 Million Sales as Green Car Benchmark

Last week, Toyota announced that it made the one-millionth sale of the Toyota Prius in the United States. It took Toyota 11 years to achieve that impressive benchmark. While 1 million might sound like an arbitrary figure (well-suited for marketing purposes only), it becomes meaningful when you consider President Obama’s goal (dating back to 2008) of getting 1 million American consumers to drive a plug-in vehicle by 2015.

The Toyota Prius threaded the needle of desirable consumer features: industry-leading fuel economy; all the necessary space and functionality of a midsize family vehicle; performance adequate for today’s driving needs; and an accessible price.

An examination of historic Prius sales reveals a slow and bumpy 11-year path. Reaching 1 million sales required years of production ramp-up, three generations of product development, and confronting ups and downs in the broader automotive market—including major economic woes, temporary government incentives, volatile gas prices, and even a runaway acceleration hoax. This trajectory, however, did not require the build-out of new vehicle fueling infrastructure or the need for consumers to accept range limitations—as plug-in vehicles will experience.

These are rounded Prius sales numbers, by year:

  • 2000 – 6,000
  • 2001 – 16,000
  • 2002 – 20,000
  • 2003 – 23,000
  • 2004 – 54,000
  • 2005 – 98,000
  • 2006 – 108,000
  • 2007 – 179,000
  • 2008 – 159,000
  • 2009 – 140,000
  • 2010 – 141,000
  • 2011 – 172,000 (estimated based on 43,000 in Q1, 2011)

On a worldwide basis, Toyota Prius topped 2 million sales in October 2010, while combined sales of all Toyota hybrids passed 3 million units last month.

Toyota estimates that, compared to an average gas car, the Prius has saved nearly 900 million gallons of gas, $2.19 billion in fuel costs, and 12.4 million tons of CO2 emissions. These figures are expected to accelerate as Toyota adds multiple vehicles to the Prius line-up, including the wagon-like Prius V this summer, as well as the compact Prius C and plug-in Prius next year.

Considering its lead, and its expanding line-up, it could be well towards 2020 before any other green car approaches the sales volume of the Prius. While other models and technologies can boast more radical reductions of emissions and oil use on a per-unit basis, the total environmental benefit of the Prius line-up has established a difficult (but worthwhile) environmental target to which other carmakers can aspire—especially considering the introduction of the Prius plug-in model which for many short-range drivers can represent a substantial reduction in oil use.

Love it or hate it—as a cultural icon, or for its dorky appearance and less-than-exhilarating acceleration—the Prius showed that American drivers are willing to go green. Just ask any one of the 1 million Prius owners who paid hard-earned dollars to put one in their driveway.


  • Capt. Concernicus

    Some very impressive numbers. It’s definitely going to be hard for any other hybrid to match those kinds of numbers. Then if you add in all of Toyota’s other hybrid cars those numbers grow even more making it hard for any one automaker or combination of automakers to reach those numbers.

    Like the article says there may be other vehicles that are more efficient than the Prius, but it’s the sheer number of Prius’s out there that make it hard for any one vehicle to come close to what the Prius has done for it’s segment and for automobiles in general.

    I’m glad I bought a very well maintained used 2nd gen Prius from a friend. It’s not a speed demon like my prior supercharged V-6 was, but it’s fully loaded and saves money at the gas pump (48.1 mpg combined).

  • JBIam

    Toyota has no rivals. The Prius is the gold standard that others wish they had!

  • Joshuas Law

    Toyota is again proved them self that no one in the automotive company predict users extract future choices as Toyota do, they started thinking & implemented this prototype a decade ago… now this started giving fruits.

  • Yegor

    I think that one of the reasons of Prius success is the fact that it is made in Japan where auto workers pay is much less than in USA ($24/hour + benefits in Japan against $40/hour + benefits in USA) hence its low price of $23,000.
    The least expensive US hybrid is Ford Fusion at $28,405.

  • Jackson

    If the big three built a hybrid that got 50+ mpg like our two prius’s we currently own, we would be driving one of them. The Chevy Volt does not count in our book because we don’t want something we have to keep charging to achieve that mark. And the US workers are not paid $40/hour as you stated. Some of the old geezers might be but new hires are $14/hour. Its just greed by the CEO’s and politics that keep the prices high.

  • Yegor

    “Base wages average about $28 an hour. GM officials say the average reaches $39.68 an hour, including base pay, cost-of-living adjustments, night-shift premiums, overtime, holiday and vacation pay. Health-care, pension and other benefits average another $33.58 an hour, GM says. – September 26, 2007″

    http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20070924073107AAuGk8O

    “average salaries for GM … $58 per hour” (April 13, 2011)

    http://www.autoguide.com/auto-news/2011/04/big-three-to-add-36000-jobs-in-next-four-years.html

  • Anonymous

    Then how can one explain that 1) Toyota, at a time, built Corolla in a UAW plant and can still compete successfully in the market; 2) Toyota is shifting production of Corolla from Japan to the states, it will start building Corolla in its Mississippi plant sometime this year; 3) wages of assembly workers is not a determining factor in the cost of hybrids like Prius vs. Fusion; 4) it’s probably some outdated rules from UAW that prevent a) efficient utilization of plant workers; b) put significant legacy costs of retired workers (and their surviving spouses) like medical benefits on the back of the employer; c) much of the cost of medical benefits of retired workers and their spouses were offloaded to union VEBA during 2007(?) labour negotiation, the rest were probably dealt with during bankruptcies (GM & Chrysler) / labour renegotiation (Ford).

  • Yegor

    “1) Toyota, at a time, built Corolla in a UAW plant and can still compete successfully in the market; “

    Why it should not? If it is build in USA it will cost about the same as competing cars. What is your point?

    My point is that if Toyota Prius was completely build in USA at UAW plant it would cost about the same as Ford Fusion Hybrid – $28,405

    Ford Fusion Auto Costs $20,700
    Ford Fusion Hybrid Costs $28,405
    Therefore Hybrid components cost around $7,700

    Toyota Corolla S Auto $19,060
    If you add Hybrid components cost around $7,700 = $26,760
    That would be the price of Prius if completely build in USA.

  • Anonymous

    Yegor,

    - how about my second point, please explain why Toyota is shifting production of Corolla from Japan to the states, when every industry cutting costs move to outsourcing, move to countries of lower costs?

    - you did not provide any proof that the difference in prices between Fusion hybrid and Prius is because of labour cost. How about development costs? How about the lack of economy of scale of Ford’s hybrid program? You did not take these into account.

    - you better check the size of battery and power of electric motor of Fusion hybrid vs. Prius. Ford put in an over sized battery and electric motor to boast: electric drive up to 40+ mph. It’s a marketing gimmick and Ford has to suffer the consequence of higher cost and lower sales.

  • Anonymous

    Prius worldwide sales topped 2.2 million units and last year was the highest led by a 312,000 sales in Japan. This year should be even higher because of the Prius v model.

    Sadly US is yet to repeat the 2007 high despite the Gen-3 offering 50 MPG. But 2008 – 2010 were the worst years in American Auto History.

    I hope all Taxis & Fleet vehicles goto Prius which could save them a lot in gas cost.

  • Anonymous

    Year-to-date sales in Japan:
    2011 2010
    #1 selling Fit 54,033 50,101 +8%
    #2 selling Prius 52,523 84,860 -38%

  • Hybrid Mechanic

    It used to be that producing the Prius was indeed cheaper in Japan, but in the past two years the Prius is becoming more expensive to produce in Japan due to the rising Japanese Yen and the falling U.S. Dollar.

    Back then, it was something like 90 Yen for 1 USD, now it’s around 80 Yen for 1 USD, so selling the Prius here in the States for the same amount of USD will convert to less Yen for them to take home than compared to several years ago.

    So now it actually makes sense for Toyota to produce the Prius here in the United States due to the depreciating American peso– We just have to see how fast they can tool up the Mississippi plant to do it. (I estimate about 2 years).

  • Capt. Concernicus

    I’d like to revise my first post. I’m no longer averaging 48 mpg. I’m now averaging 48.2 mpg. Yay! I’m going for a 50 mpg average in my 2nd gen Prius.

    This last Saturday I was able to achieve 81.5 mpg on 1 gallon of gas. That’s the highest I’ve been able to get without driving slower than the speed limit or being a nuisance on the road via hypermiling. Of course by the time I put gas in my car a couple of days ago the average fell to 48.64 mpg.

    Does anyone else have a Prius or other hybrid that is getting at or above what the EPA mpg states? I’d love to hear other MPG averages.

  • tyler west

    The Ford fusion is built in Mexico.
    The toyota camry hybrid and nissan altima hybrid are assembled in the USA

  • nycsolar

    My wife and I are getting 55.5 mpg in our gen 3 prius. Our Gen2 prius never saw of 50 mpg consistently, but we now drive in slightly different conditions. The Gen2 prius saw many 15-20 minute drives, while inour gen 3, we see the highest mpg with drives of approximately 30-45 minutes. My parents have a gen 2 prius which rarely take drives longer than 10 minutes. they only average approximately 38-40 mpg.

  • BoilerCivicHy

    Yeagar, I think if you take a look, its not necessarilly the hybrid components that make the Fusuion Hybrid 8K more expensive, its the fact that Ford seems to refuse to offer a truely base level hybrid. From what I have seen, and I could be mistaken, but the Fusion and other Ford hybrids all seem to come as what I would call LOADED models, thus a much higher price tag than the base gas Fusion. Has anyone else noticed this about the Ford Hybrids??

  • Yegor

    Lakecountyhybrid,

    “Loaded” features do not cost as much as manufactures charge for them.
    The reason hybrids usually sold “loaded” is because they are indeed more expensive to make so manufactures offer “loaded” trims to justify to the buyer more expensive cost of the car.

  • Yegor

    Anonymous,

    About Toyota assembling Corolla in Mississippi.

    Apparently UAW is not so strong in the South:
    http://www.autospies.com/news/Is-The-South-Just-Too-Smart-To-Fall-For-The-UAW-Way-Of-Life-62755/

    That is why.

  • Anonymous

    “About Toyota assembling Corolla in Mississippi.”

    No. Read what I said: “Toyota, at a time, built Corolla in a UAW plant and can still compete successfully in the market.”

  • sean t

    Cpt Concernicus,

    Can you tell more about your trip w/ 81.5 MPG? Any trick or just normal driving? Would like to learn from you.

  • Jim1961

    I own a 2011 Honda Insight. When I drive the car I average much higher than the EPA estimate of 41 mpg combined. I’d guess my average fuel efficiency is about 50 mpg. On some trips I’ve gotten as high as 60 mpg according to the Insight’s automated mpg display thingy. I would have a better idea of my average mpg but my wife and daughter tend to drive less efficiently. By the way, I may drive conservatively most of the time but for safety reasons I do not accelerate slowly on a highway on ramps.

  • BoilerCivicHy

    I guess it must be just american companies then that feel the need to justify the car cost that way, when I was looking at a Civic hybrid the cost difference with similar options was only about 3K dollars, not as high as the difference in cost on the Fusion. I love the look and the thought of havin another Ford hybrid, I currently drive an Escape hybrid, but just cannot justify almost 30K for a second car, hopefully the new Focus hybrid will finally offer a cost effective American hybrid alternative that I can afford for my second car.

  • Aiden

    Kudos to Toyota for daring to introduce a gas sipping car when SUV’s were all the rage–taking losses for the first half-decade, yet finally proving that the public wanted eco-friendly cars and would pay for them.
    Toyota, singlehandedly, made environmentally-friendly cars MAINSTREAM. The customer doesn’t have to compromise on quality or price when they get a eco-friendly car–in fact, the Prius has gotten JD Power’s Most Dependable small car for 4 years in a row, Intellichoice’s Top Pick for 6 years in a row, and recently got a 5-Star rating in NHTSA’s newest and most stringent crash tests:

  • Aiden

    On a down note, because of the quake and tsunami, it’ll be hard for Toyota to keep up these hybrid sales numbers, as well as Ford and Nissan, who have licensed Toyota’s hybrid tech and/or use Toyota part-owned suppliers. Aisin and Jatco, which produce hybrid transmissions and electric motors, and Sanyo, which produces hybrid batteries, were all hit hard by power-outtages and damage due to the disasters. Even if customer demand for hybrids goes up, it’s doubtful supply will be able to match demand for the next few months.

  • Anonymous

    @Aiden, AFAIK, 1) Jatco is a subsidiary of Nissan Motor. According to wikipedia (which, sometimes, is less than perfect), Jatco is a supplier to Hyundai Motor, Jaguar, London Taxi, Ford Europe, Renault Samsung, Ford Lio Ho (of Taiwan), Changan Ford (of China), Daimler Chrysler (before they split ways). More importantly, it says: “Today, products from nearly every auto maker have used Jatco transmissions, with the notable exceptions of Honda Motor Company, who makes their own transmissions, and Toyota Motor Company, who has always used transmissions made by Aisin, a subsidiary of Toyota.”

    2) Prius uses a power split device from Aisin;
    3) The NiMH battery in Prius comes from Panasonic EV Energy Company, originally formed as a joint venture between Toyota and Panasonic. It was renamed Prime Earth EV Energy after Panasonic reduced its shareholding to 19.5% as part of its acquisition of Sanyo, another manufacturer of batteries for hybrid vehicles.

  • Anonymous

    Can’t say I’ve ever seen the South accused of being “too smart” before! :)

  • Capt. Concernicus

    @ Sean T,

    The temperature was 64 degrees on a Saturday morning in a suburb of Chicago. The road itself was fairly flat and it was all town driving where the speed limit varied from 30-45 mph. Traffic was lighter than I had expected for that time of day on the road we took. It was an area where I had only driven a few times before so it’s not like I knew the route, traffic flow or how the stoplights did or did not sync up with each other. Plus, I was following a friend to his mom’s house and I didn’t know where she lived. All that made it hard for me to really maximize the route I was driving.

    But quite honestly I just tried to judge the stoplights the best I could. If I saw them turning red up ahead I would just begin a glide pattern (basically neutral coasting in case you don’t know) until I either (A) started to get too close and needed the engine to start slowing me down quicker, plus the brakes or (B) the light turned green and I could get back up to speed. I never drove under the speed limit unless I was going to have to stop or turn. If I was at a stop and had to go I would briskly get back up to speed. I never floored it nor do I take forever to get to speed. When I’m at speed I just continually monitor the instant mpg gauge and the flow of energy from the engine, to the battery, to the wheels etc. I kept my foot resting against the center hump to better help modulate the pressure on the gas pedal. If there were people behind me I used shorter braking distances. If not, then I used longer lengths of the road to stop or slow down. I don’t like being one of those annoying people that end up being a hinderance to others on the road.

    That was just one specific gallon that I got that many miles on. When I filled up I found myself averaging only 48.64 mpg. A little disappointing, but still decent.

    Now the car is averaging 47.9 mpg. 0.3 less than my previous post, but snow, slush and cold weather don’t help the situation at all.

  • Anonymous

    “Prius [cumulative] worldwide sales topped 2.2 million units and last year was the highest led by a 312,000 sales in Japan. This year should be even higher because of the Prius v model.”

    Not necessary.
    It’s because after the expiry of incentive from Japanese government in Sept last year, the Prius sales in Japan dropped.
    During the last three months, Prius sales in Japan dropped by about 20%.
    During the first two months of this year (i.e. before the Japanese earthquake), Prius sales fell by a staggering 33%.

    Finally, I doubt any increase in sales in the U.S. can fully compensate the fall in Japanese sales.

  • Anonymous

    “During the last three months, Prius sales in Japan dropped by about 20%.”

    Just to clarify, I meant the last three months of 2010.